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~ Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice ~

IMG_1036While I was growing up and thru to today, my mother's stuffed cabbage rolls (made on the stovetop or in the crockpot) and my grandmother's stuffed cabbage soup with mini-meatballs were two of our family's favorite main-dish meals.  The latter is the easier of the two ways to bring this traditional Eastern European comfort food to the table, but, I am here to tell you, there is a third, even easier method: Stir sautéed and nicely-seasoned ground beef and cooked rice to the easy-to-make cabbage soup base.  From start to finish, it's on the table in 45 minutes.  That said, even though the rice is precooked (steamed or boiled, your choice), it is going to absorb a good bit of the broth, which give this meal a thick, stew-like consistency.

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage and tomato soup and soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801 IMG_0801 IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~ Step 1. Making the soup/soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

IMG_0991For the meat and rice mixture:

3  pounds ground beef (90/10)  

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  seasoning packets from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note: This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a pantry staple of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes.)

1 1/2  cups uncooked long-grain white rice, steamed in a rice steamer or cooked on stovetop

IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0998 IMG_0998~Step 1. Cook the rice your favorite way.  On the stovetop the common formula is: bring 2 cups water + 2 tablespoons butter or oil to a boil over high heat for every 1 cup of long-grain white rice. Slowly sprinkle the rice into the boiling water, give it a quick stir, adjust heat to a gentle simmer, cover pot and allow to simmer, without lifting the lid off the pot, 22-24 minutes.  When I am cooking rice on the stovetop, I always use a pot with a glass lid, so I can keep a careful eye on the process.  You will know the rice is finished when the bubble slow to an almost halt and small holes, where the bubbles were rising to the surface, have formed.  Remove from heat and use a fork to rake through the rice to separate the grains.

IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014~Step 2.  In a 12" skillet place the ground beef and use a spatula to break it up a bit.  Season the beef with the salt, pepper and G. Washington's seasoning.  Over medium heat, cook the beef, stirring constantly and breaking it up into bits and pieces with the spatula, until it has lost it's pink color and is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes. Do not overcook the beef, do not brown the beef, simply render the fat from it.  Turn the heat off.  Using a few wadded-up paper towels, blot up the greasy liquid.  Add the rice to the skillet.  Stir the two together and remove from stovetop.

Note:  The reason to gently cook the ground beef in a skillet before adding it to the soup is to remove a good deal of its fat.  If you're questioning why this is not done in the case of stuffed cabbage soup w/mini-meatballs, here's the answer:  The meat and the rice in that soup are added uncooked -- the rice absorbs the fat/juices from the meatballs as they cook in the soup.  

Stir beef & rice mixture into stew & simmer 5-10 minutes:

IMG_1027Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice:  Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/12-16 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 12" nonstick skillet; 2-quart saucepan w/lid or electric rice steamer; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcd8fbfd970bCook's Note:  After the Easter holiday, each and every year, my mother always reserved the bone from her baked ham, being careful to leave a copious amount of meat clinging to it.  For another delightful and traditional Eastern European soup, try ~ My Mom's Traditional Ham, Cabbage & Potato Soup ~. 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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